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RTC TrailBlog

  • Bob Thomas a Key Figure in Forging Pennsylvania's Trails

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we pay tribute to Robert "Bob" Thomas, a key figure in the development of Pennsylvania's groundbreaking trails network.

    Bob Thomas is a widely recognized advocate for rail-trails and livable communities in his home state of Pennsylvania.

    He is a long-time member and former president of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, where he has contributed more than 35 years of efforts to develop a seamless network of bicycle transportation in the state's southeast. In this role, Thomas has devoted years of work to open bridges and public transportation to people and bicycles.

    He is also a long-time member and former chairman of the board of the Schuylkill River Greenway Association, developer of major portions of the Schuylkill River Trail in southeast Pennsylvania, one of America's most popular urban rail-trails.

    As an architect, Thomas has focused on bringing the principles of conservation, preservation, greenways and active transportation into his work since 1969. A founding partner of Campbell Thomas & Co Architects, he has led the firm's work in the advocacy, planning, design and construction of numerous rail-trails and greenways.

    Thomas is also a member of the East Coast Greenway, for which he serves on the Pennsylvania Steering Committee.

    Thomas dedicated the Doppelt Family Rail-Trails Champion grant named in his honor to the Valley-Forge to Heinz Refuge Trail (VF-HRT). The VF-HRT is currently in the planning stages, with the potential to link a series of isolated trails to two of the major regional trails in southeastern Pennsylvania: the East Coast Greenway and the Schuylkill River Trail. When complete, the trail will give access to people from three counties to downtown Philadelphia and to each other, strengthening a series of disparate communities.

  • Teko Wiseman - Alabama Trailblazer, Beloved Civic Leader

    The history of America's rail-trails and community pathways is ripe with terrific stories about community-minded individuals who took the bull by the horns and turned grand ideas into ribbon cuttings.

    All across the country there have been volunteers who have dedicated years, decades of their lives to the funding and construction of trails projects - often facing stern criticism long before the true value of their work became evident.

    Alabama's Janice "Teko" Wiseman was one such individual. This week, her passing is being mourned across the state by trails advocates and a broad array of people she inspired in a lifetime of volunteerism, community action and a passion for helping other people that has now left a generous legacy. She was 83.

    Sixteen years ago, the Fairhope resident and Mobile native dreamed of building a countywide network of hiking and biking trails, joining people, towns and communities in Baldwin County, all while promoting a healthy lifestyle. Never satisfied just to dream, Wiseman took action and founded the Baldwin County Trailblazers.

    A passionate activist, Wiseman is described as a source of strength, wisdom and love to family and friends. She worked tirelessly with volunteers and local officials, securing more than $6 million in private, federal and local support to construct the 32-mile Eastern Shore Trail. In 2010, the National Park Service designated the trail a National Recreational Trail. For her work, Wiseman received the Alabama Trail Advocate award from the nonprofit organization American Trails.

    "There are very few true visionaries in this world, but Teko was one them," says Fairhope City Councilwoman Debbie Quinn. "Teko took an idea and brought communities and dollars together to make it happen."

    The trail was just one of many endeavors Teko and her husband, Dr. Hollis Wiseman, took on as civic leaders during their 62 years of marriage. Though deeply devoted to their family and six children, the Wisemans still found time to change the landscape of their community. Hollis founded the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of South Alabama Women and Children's Hospital. In the 1960s the couple created Alabamians Behind Local Education (ABLE), a movement to create a smooth transition for school integration. Teko helped found Keep Mobile Beautiful in the 1980s and was its coordinator for 10 years. Upon moving to Baldwin County 20 years ago, Hollis was instrumental in building the Fairhope Public Library, and Teko conceived the idea for connecting communities and people through miles of sidewalk. 

    Today, thousands of adults and children each year benefit from Teko's leadership by way of the Eastern Shore National Recreation Trail. They search for reptiles at Daphne's Gator Alley, run the wooded, hilly path through Montrose, stroll along beautiful Mobile Bay in Fairhope, or cycle Scenic Highway 98 past the historic Grand Hotel.

    Always full of energy, Teko most recently had a new vision that would connect the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay with South Baldwin County. Her favorite motto was "Foley or bust." Sadly, she passed away with only three miles left to complete on the Eastern Shore Trail.

    The family requests that all memorials be made to the Baldwin County Trailblazers, P.O. Box 701, Daphne, AL 36526, or online at www.thetrailblazers.org.

  • Communities Across America Seek Walking, Biking Options Through TIGER Grants

    Yesterday's announcement of recipients of the highly competitive transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants contains quite a bit of good news for Americans looking for transportation options beyond highways and cars.

    More than $14 billion worth of roads, bridges, transit, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects were applied for from the $527 million available in TIGER grants. The applications came from city and county municipalities across America and reflected a local, grassroots understanding of the improvements needed to make these communities better places to live, work and do business. Often, the improvements they sought were infrastructure for biking and walking.

    Fortunately for active transportation advocates, it appears that U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and the rest of the U.S. Department of Transportation remain committed to the promise of ensuring biking and walking are crucial parts of America's transportation landscape: Of the 46 projects chosen for TIGER grants, 22 incorporate some aspect of bike and pedestrian accessibility. 

    "It is great to see a broad range of projects, even those that are primarily on roads, integrating walking and biking into their design," says Kartik Sribarra, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's director of policy outreach. "Giving people the option to walk or bike is key to building better cities, neighborhoods that move better, and downtown areas that thrive."

    The headline-grabber for biking and walking advocates will likely be the funding of Chicago's first large-scale bike share program, terrific news for a city whose leadership has indicated that non-motorized transportation is central to its sustained growth.

    There is great news, too, for the people of Beaufort, S.C., with funding announced for the city's effort to reconstruct its downtown area to improve accessibility.

    City planners have said that their main street's current suburban-style commercial corridor is not only dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, but also an obstacle to shopping and other economic activity. The city's retrofit will focus on integrating motor vehicles, transit, biking and walking, as well as a connection to the nearby Beaufort Rail-Trail, which, when complete, will connect with schools, neighborhoods and service centers throughout the region.

    "Cities like Beaufort are increasingly aware of the fact that commercial areas that discourage walking and biking are just not maximizing their potential for good business," Sribarra says. "Downtown areas to which people can walk or ride not only provide a great health benefit, but nearby real estate values benefit, too. Commercial areas become vibrant places of community, rather than less appealing parking lots, which typically don't encourage walking, sightseeing, window shopping or community activity."

    The Beaufort TIGER grant included a significant match from the city. The match was provided in part by a one percent local sales tax designated specifically for transportation improvements, an indication that local voters were willing to invest in more options for biking and walking in their city.

    Beaufort City Manager Scott Dadson says that designing shopping centers only for vehicular access limits their potential for success.

    "Even in a city the size of Beaufort, people will choose not to go out shopping if it means driving in traffic at certain times of the day," he says. "We also look at the cost of gas as another gauge of whether it's 'worth it' to get in the car and drive somewhere. If walking or biking or taking a golf cart are other options to get to the store, suddenly those businesses have a more robust market in which to serve and hopefully succeed."

    In Northfield, Minn., a relatively small TIGER grant will have a massive impact on pedestrian safety and give residents and students another transportation option for short trips around this small city of about 20,000 people.

    For a federal investment of a little more than $1 million, Northfield will be able to build a pedestrian crossing traversing State Highway 3, a major road bisecting the city. This link will allow pedestrian and bicycle access between residential and college areas and the downtown area, and improve safety on and around the highway.

    The people of Northfield believe strongly that their transportation landscape must give them options other than to drive. This project represents a widespread community effort to improve safety in an area where 23 percent of all commutes are non-motorized.

    "This pedestrian crossing project is a great example of how relatively small investments in walking and bicycling infrastructure have an enormous impact on day to day lives," Sribarra says. "$1 million is a drop in the bucket of the price of a road. But for this same $1 million, scores of people every day will benefit from a safer, healthier commute, which also has the benefit of getting cars off the road during peak periods."

    Other significant bicycle and pedestrian-related projects to receive TIGER funding include:

    • Buffalo Main Street Revitalization (N.Y.) - A project to revitalize the historical downtown area by improving transportation connectivity and pedestrian access.
    • Stamford Intermodal Access (Conn.) - Improve pedestrian access to the Stamford Transit Center.
    • Snake Road Improvement (Fla.) - Improve 2.25 miles of road on the Big Cypress Reservation, including a 5-foot sidewalk and a 12-foot multi-use path.
    • US 101 Smith River Safety Corridor (Calif.) - Improve a portion of US 101 including pedestrian features to slow traffic and provide safe access for pedestrians and bicyclists to vital community services.
    • City of American Falls Complete Streets (Idaho) - Transform the downtown area to safely accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.
    • St Albans Main Street Reconstruction (Vt.) - Improving livability in the center of a small city by improving non-motorized transportation.

    For every project to receive TIGER funding, however, there were many more non-motorized infrastructure projects to miss out. An innovative regional effort involving a number of cities in the northeast, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Camden and Newark, would have provided walking and cycling connections for millions of residents and boosted the commercial and environmental sustainability of an enormous metropolitan area.

    With current political threats to the Transportation Enhancements program and other funding for active transportation projects, whether our state and federal government are willing to invest in the forward-thinking plans of America's cities and counties will have a great impact on how we all get from A to B in the coming decades.  

    Photo of shoppers enjoying a pedestrian friendly commercial area in Burlington, Vt., by RTC

     

  • Rail Corridor Acquisition a Key Link for Michigan Trails

    Rail-trail advocates in Michigan are celebrating this week with news that the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) has recommended a $3,755,400 grant to acquire a section of out-of-service Coe Rail Line in Oakland County, about 35 miles northeast of Detroit.

    In addition to the 33-acre parcel of rail corridor, the grant will also enable the Commerce, Walled Lake and Wixom Trailway Management Council, a joint effort of the three townships along the route, to purchase the Walled Lake Train Depot, with plans to convert the historical building into a visitor center or community gathering place.

    It was third time lucky for the people of Oakland County, who had seen two previous applications for funding to purchase the land rejected.

    The proposed Commerce, Walled Lake and Wixom Trailway would provide a valuable connection between two popular existing trails, linking the West Bloomfield Trail, in Bloomfield, and the Huron Valley Rail-Trail in Wixom.

    The new trail would also fill another gap in the ambitious plan for a Great Lake to Lake Trail, formally known as the Michigan Airline Trail, a cross-state trail network utilizing Michigan's thousands of miles of rail-trail and other multi-use pathways.

    Photos courtesy of Kristen Wiltfang/Oakland County

  • Support Builds for Elevated Greenway Through Queens, N.Y.

    In the world of science, the arts - in fact all human endeavors where people are constantly trying to innovate or discover new, uncharted territory - it often happens that the achievement of one groundbreaking pioneer opens the gate for many to follow.

    That's just as true in the world of rail-trail design. The successful development of the High Line on Manhattan's lower west side in the mid-2000s has lit a path for a number of greenway projects along out-of-service elevated rail trestles and embankments in American cities.

    In Jersey City, N.J., a strong community movement is building support for a greenway and trail along the Harsimus Stem Embankment. In Chicago, plans for a similar community space and transportation corridor along a three-mile section of the Bloomingdale Rail Line through the heart of the city is exciting residents, businesses, planners and officials. 

    And now, the success of the High Line has re-energized supporters of a 3.5-mile greenway along the Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road through Queens. It's an elevated section of track that has been out of use since the 1960s, and greenway proponents say the corridor, as it stands, does little more than contribute to the derelict appearance of some sections of the neighborhood. Those same unused tracks, though, could be revived as an elevated trail that enriches the community.

    The Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee (RBBGC) is well-organized and well-supported; Travis Terry, who was involved with the creation of the High Line, is one of the key members, and the group has the support of elected officials and community groups throughout the region. The Trust for Public Land has committed to producing a feasibility study, and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Northeast Regional Office has been tapped for technical advice and support - a role we also played in the early stages of the High Line.

    The greenway, which is being referred to variously as the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway, the Queens Highline, the QueensWay or the QueensLine, would run about 3.5 miles from Rego Park to Ozone Park in central Queens, linking the neighborhood of Forest Park with the Shore Parkway path, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and Gateway National Recreation Area.

    And though the buzz created by the unique success of the High Line was a catalyst for community action behind this greenway in Queens, the projects are very different. A Rockaway Beach Branch trail would be more than twice as long as the High Line and would be more park than footpath - featuring wide spaces for recreation and gathering.

    According to the RBBC's Peter Beadle, the route of the greenway covers a broad spectrum of areas, with fairly affluent neighborhoods to the north, and historically underserved areas to the south.

    "These areas have lacked the same access to social services, to green spaces," he says, describing the areas around the currently neglected railway corridor as "derelict, abandoned, decrepit, dangerous."

    He says one of the main oppositions to the trail concept at the moment is the perception that it would somehow increase crime activity.

    "The evidence shows that building community greenways and trails like this has the opposite effect," Beadle says. "We see increased property values, and better conditions for businesses along the line."

    Beadle's insight is confirmed by a number of RTC case studies that detail how increasing foot and bike-traffic in previously under-used urban areas increases the safety of those areas, particularly as local communities begins to take "ownership" of the trail, trailside parks and spaces, which become popular neighborhood assets.

    One significant hurdle greenway proponents won't have to scale is the great expense of acquiring the land, as the city of New York owns the corridor.

    Beadle says the RBBC is in the process of formalizing as a nonprofit and gathering resources for a period of public outreach and support-building. Last week the group launched an online petition, which it hopes will urge the city of New York to commit to converting the disused line into a community greenway. After just a few days, the petition has more than 530 signatures.

    To learn more about the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway project, or to add your name to the petition, visit www.facebook.com/RBBGreenway.

    Photos courtesy of Anandi A. Premlall/Envisioning the Queens Highline

  • George Burrier's Achievement a Gift to All Americans

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we pay tribute to George M. Burrier, Jr., whose work to establish the Rock Island Trail State Park in Illinois is now recognized as a one of the defining achievements in the development of a rail-trail network in America.  

    George Burrier was born in Chicago, Ill., but spent most of his childhood in Pennsylvania. He received a B.S. in psychology from Northern Illinois University in 1967. After serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, he finished his law degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology in the evenings in 1973 while working for Pullman, Inc.

    Shortly after 1983, William Rutherford, former director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), flew Burrier over the abandoned Peoria, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, where rail traffic had ceased in 1963. Rutherford asked Burrier to help make his trail plan come true. The Forest Park Foundation directed by Rutherford acquired the line in 1965. The IDNR received the land in 1968, it became a state park in 1973-and then commenced a 17-year battle to develop the 31-mile Rock Island Trail State Park.

    Working with an initial annual state budget of $1 a year, Burrier and other volunteers began piecing together the trail, from restoring bridges and acquiring former railroad depots along the route to finding donors and new supporters for the project. Burrier provided legal work pro bono throughout this process, helping the friends group negotiate through local landowner and political opposition. Finally, on May 12, 1990, Secretary of State Jim Edgar officially dedicated the trail.

    At the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions award ceremony, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a native of Peoria, Ill., said riding and walking on the Rock Island Trail State Park had done much to convince him of the importance of trails in our daily lives. Sec. LaHood said generations of Americans owed a debt of gratitude to trails advocates like Burrier, who had given much of their time and energy to building invaluable resources for the public good--often being vilified for it at the time.

    Burrier and his family began cycling adventures in 1983 by going on a six-day ride from Fish Creek, Wis., to Milwaukee. Since then, the Burriers have traveled in 45 states, three Canadian provinces, Belgium, France, Iceland and The Netherlands.

    The Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant awarded in Burrier's honor will assist the Friends of the Rock Island Trail, Inc., in its work to promote the rail-trail Burrier spent so many years seeing to completion.

    Photo of Sec. LaHood with George Burrier and RTC President Keith Laughlin by Scott Stark/RTC.

  • Expansion of "Trail Towns" Program Great News for Rural Communities

    The Trail Town program, which since 2007 has helped communities along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) convert their terrific location into sustainable economic activity, last month received a $2.75 million Wachovia Wells Fargo NEXT Award, recognizing the program's unique and impactful work in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

    These days, everyone from biking advocates and city planners to small business owners and real estate developers is making the connection between trails and economic stimulus. The data are there, on trail users and spending multipliers and the desire of homebuyers to have convenient and safe access to trails, sidewalks and bike lanes.

    But it wasn't so long ago that correlating the intangible joys of a trail ride or hike with local business receipts and profitable investment was more difficult to do. That the economic impact of trails and trails tourism is now clear and well-known has a lot to do with a remarkable development organization from Pennsylvania called The Progress Fund.

    Formed in 1997 to provide loans and support tourism entrepreneurship in the economically depressed towns of western and northern Pennsylvania, the core of The Progress Fund has always been a belief in the strength and sustainability of the tourism and recreation industries.

    "We could see the huge opportunities for rural businesses," says David Kahley, president, CEO and co-founder of The Progress Fund. "But, unfortunately, campgrounds and bike shops and ski-rental places in small towns are not a favorite of banks, so they were having trouble getting loans to get off the ground, to expand. But these are exactly the kinds of businesses that are needed if people are to recreate in the area."

    Since its inception, The Progress Fund has made 368 loans totaling more than $39.8 million to 218 small businesses in Pennsylvania and Maryland, helping to create or sustain more than 2,568 jobs. These loans supported businesses such as Confluence Cyclery, pictured below, enabling the owners to add upstairs lodging to their thriving bike shop in Confluence, Pa.

    Of course, one of the most popular outdoor recreation amenities in that area is the GAP, and in 2005 The Progress Fund's work tied itself explicitly to that famous rail-trail with the launch of the Trail Town program. Back then, the GAP wasn't nearly as developed as it is today, and the idea that the trail could be an economic boon to the local communities was still in its infancy.

    The Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA), led by dedicated citizens like RTC Rail-Trail Champion Linda McKenna Boxx, had long-promoted the concept of helping businesses benefit from their position near the trail, but had been unable to attract a financial backer to provide loans and business coaching to make the Trail Town idea a reality. To Kahley, Trail Town spoke directly to the mission of The Progress Fund.

    "People were always aware of the economic benefit, intuitively, but there was no plan," he says. "They would say, 'If you build it, they will come.' But that is not necessarily true. They might come, but they're going to come slower, or maybe they won't come how and when you want them to."

    The Progress Fund's great success has been in attaching clinical business acumen to what used to be a less tangible measurement. Their groundbreaking trail user data has put hard numbers behind what the GAP is worth to local business, and identified areas of untapped potential.

    Trail Town administers small business loans and grants, provides training in marketing, and supports initiatives to encourage trail users to shop and stay in the GAP communities. Often its initiatives are small and simple projects that can have a much grander effect--such as inexpensive signage connecting passing riders and hikers with a community of stores, restaurants and lodging which may otherwise have passed by unnoticed. Clear directions and an easy connector are often the difference between pulling off onto the main street for a local meal, or continuing along the trail. 

    Since the launch of the Trail Town program, there has been an increase of 54 new and expanded trail-serving businesses. More than $40 million in direct annual spending is attributed to GAP trail users, and trail-related businesses along the GAP pay out $7.5 million in wages each year.

    The news last month that The Progress Fund would receive a $2.75 million Wachovia Wells Fargo NEXT Award may well be the most significant news for the communities of northern Appalachia since Trail Town first came to life.

    Kahley says the NEXT Award money will support the expansion of Trail Town into other communities in a region increasingly renowned as an outdoor recreation destination--with Pittsburgh and the GAP as its center, and encompassing eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia, as well as farther into Pennsylvania and Maryland. Communities in this area "share the same opportunities, and the same challenges," Kahley says, characterized by an outstanding natural setting and a recent history marked by a decline in industry and employment.

    "We plan to build the program," he says, adding that he envisions a time when Trail Town is used as a case study to guide similar efforts across the country.

    This good news for The Progress Fund holds a great deal of promise for trails and outdoor recreation communities throughout this spectacular region.

    Photo of cyclists stopping in the town of Meyersdale, Penn., by RTC.
    Photo of Maureen and Brad Smith of Confluence Cyclery courtesy of The Progress Fund.

  • Volusia County's Bright Trails Future Hinges on Survival of Transportation Enhancements

    Volusia County on central Florida's eastern coast continues to distinguish itself as one of the most proactive and energetic trails communities in the nation. And it is reaping the rewards, too, with a robust and dynamic commercial center, a growing population and a burgeoning reputation as a tourist destination.

    Not resting on laurels earned by the unveiling of the Spring-to-Spring Trail and an enviable network of bike and pedestrian facilities, Volusia County is now undertaking work on what will soon be one of the longest rail-trail conversions in Florida.

    The East Central Regional Rail Trail (ECRRT), which uses an abandoned section of the Florida East Coast Railway purchased by the state of Florida and leased to Volusia and Brevard counties, is being developed as a multi-use trail for walkers, runners, inline skaters, bicyclists and people with disabilities. When complete, it will travel more than 50 miles from Enterprise, east to Edgewater, and south to Titusville.

    The best-laid plans don't linger too long on the drawing board in Volusia County, and work on the ECRRT has already begun. Officials plan to cut the ribbon on phase one of the trail, from Providence Boulevard near Green Springs Park in Enterprise to the intersection with State Route 415 in Osteen, in late January 2012.

    "The neighbors are already using those sections that are completed, and it is a hit!" says Pat Northey, vice chair of the Volusia County Council and a respected supporter of trails projects in the region.

    That Volusia has had success moving such projects from vision to completion is no accident. Thanks in part to the leadership of Northey and County Chair Frank Bruno, Volusia now sets aside a minimum of $1 million a year for trail development, which enables them to secure matching state and federal funds, providing tremendous economic value for taxpayers.

    However, further construction of the ECRRT relies heavily on the continuation of the Federal Transportation Enhancements (TE) program--the only dedicated federal funding source for construction of walking and biking infrastructure. Volusia and Brevard counties are banking on more than $6.6 million of TE money programmed by the Florida Department of Transportation for the financial years 2014 to 2016. Given the current political attacks on funding for non-motorized transportation, this important funding is far from guaranteed. The future of a trail project that local officials believe will be an economic and social boon for the area is tied inextricably the future of TE; should the U.S. Congress opt to compromise or reduce TE, the ECRRT may be the first of many casualties.

    "Volusia County recognizes the value of trails," Northey says. "We know that in addition to providing recreational opportunities for our residents, we are developing a nature based economic engine for the county. It isn't just about quality of life, but also building those small, niche business that support trails activities."

    The region is one of many across the country in which trails are an integral component of the local economic program. A key part of the county's application for grant funding to support the construction of the ECRRT is its importance to the commercial redevelopment of downtown Titusville.

    "Trails are popular amenities that draw millions of users a year, they have aided in the revitalization of downtown areas and are becoming a key amenity in new developments," reads the county's recent application for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. "The development of the East Central Regional Rail corridor into a multi-use trail promulgates the vision of the Downtown Titusville Community Redevelopment Area Plan, and it has the potential to be a catalyst in the redevelopment process... The plan notes that creating a safe and welcoming environment for pedestrians is a priority. The rail-trail will be instrumental in providing pedestrian access to the downtown area."

    Florida has witnessed the energizing potential of trails before. Before the construction of the West Orange Trail in Winter Garden, the downtown area was blighted with empty storefronts. Since the trail opened the downtown area has been revitalized, with nearly 100 percent of the storefronts now occupied. In Dunedin, the arrival of the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail increased occupancy rates from about 35 percent to near capacity. In Pennsylvania, businesses along the Great Allegheny Passage attribute 25 percent of their revenue to proximity to the trail.

    With the timeline for completion uncertain, county planners made the conscious decision to complete the trail from the outside in. With the middle section of the trail largely rural and open space, the belief is that getting the trail ready in the populated areas first will build a solid user base, and increase demand for further connections.

    "Our rail trail stretches the length of the county, and as you travel from the west to the east you travel through planted pine and hardwood hammocks and the beautiful and historic Turnbull swamp," Northey says. "The ecology along the trail is varied and beautiful, changing with the season. It will be a great ride whatever the time of year."

    Photo of the Spring-to-Spring Trail, and map of the ECRRT and Spring to Spring Trail, courtesy of County of Volusia Parks, Recreation and Culture Division.

  • Bicycle Versus Train: A Race in the Mountains of Colorado

    Here at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we love celebrating the connections between the steam-powered locomotives of yesterday and our leg-powered locomotives of today. A rail-trail, or a rail-with-trail, is a great way to pay tribute to the nation's railroad history by integrating it with our recreation and transportation future.

    But how to describe the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic? Staged on neither a rail-trail nor rail-with-trail, this annual bike race set amongt the San Juan Mountains of central Colorado creates a unique connection between bike and train. As in, bike versus train.

    Back in the day when mining for gold and silver was the biggest industry in the region, Jim Hayer worked as a brakeman on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which had run steam-powered locomotives between the mining towns of Durango and Silverton since the 1880s.

    Jim's younger brother Tom was a bicycle enthusiast who grew up alongside the same tracks on which his brother worked every day. A healthy rivalry naturally developed between older and younger brother. One day, full of the flush of youth, Tom challenged Jim to a race--Tom on his bike, Jim on his train--from their home to nearby Silverton.

    As the train came by the house, the steam whistle screamed, signaling Tom to climb onto his steel-framed 10-speed and pedal furiously up over the rim of the volcano, down into the caldera and to Silverton below. The train took a shorter and easier route, but with limited speed due to the narrow twists and turns, making for an even contest between man and machine. When Tom eventually became strong enough to win--which he did--the bragging rights were his, and the whole town knew it.

    Years later, in the spring of 1972, 36 riders came together to celebrate the season's first run of the train and to accept the challenge made legendary by Tom and Jim Hayer. In the 37 years since, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic has become one of the most renowned bike events in the West, famed not just for the unique character of the race but also for its stunning natural setting.

    Held each Memorial Day weekend, the event now attracts riders from across the world, each competing to beat each other as well as the puffing engine that races them into Silverton on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, now a National Historic Landmark.

    If the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic sounds like your kind of challenge, be sure to book ahead. Many of the categories for this year's event are already full. Check the event website at www.ironhorsebicycleclassic.com for details.

    Photos courtesy Imagesmith Photo.

  • From Florida to Prince William Sound, Linda Crider's Wide-Reaching Legacy

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we pay tribute to Dr. Linda Crider, who in a wide-reaching career has promoted opportunities and education for walking and biking in a diverse range of communities.

    Dr. Linda Crider describes her advocacy of bicycling and trails as "one of her life's passions." From bicycling education programs in her native Florida to transportation planning in a remote Alaskan village, Crider's promotion of active trans­portation has spanned a number of decades, and many landscapes.

    Crider's involvement in Florida's trails and cycling community began in the 1970s, first during her work in the governor's office, and then as an active member of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Florida Chapter (and later an RTC Florida advisory board member).

    Crider was a founding board member of the Florida Bicycle Association in the 1980s. She later founded and served as executive director for Bike Florida, Inc., and for 18 years was director of the University of Florida's Bicycle and Traffic Safety Education Program. She directed a number of multi-modal research efforts and training programs for the Florida Department of Transportation, helping make bicycling and walking safer and a more integral part of communities.

    In 1997, Crider launched one of the nation's first Safe Routes to School programs. In 2009, she was contracted to shape a plan to address the needs and opportunities for non-motorized transportation in the Prince William Sound region of Alaska, where she had spent a number of summers earlier in the decade. During Crider's time there in 2009, she helped the city of Cordova develop a Safe Routes to School program, and her work led to the nomination of the Copper River highway as a Scenic Byway.

    Crider was recently recognized with a Lifetime Achievement award by the national Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals.

    To receive the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant named in her honor, Crider selected the Palatka to Lake Butler State Trail. RTC played a key role in preserving the corridor for conversion to a rail-trail, which Crider says has the potential to "redefine Palatka as the trail hub of northeast Florida."

    Photo of Dr. Linda Crider, being presented with her Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion award by RTC President Keith Laughlin, by Scott Stark/RTC

  • Morgana Run Trail Sparks New Home Construction

    When the Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, welcomed the Morgana Run Trail more than five years ago, there were high hopes for how it would help transform the area. And in the ensuing years the trail proved the catalyst for many wonderful amenities, from public art installations to the construction of a new school.

    The fall of 2011 brought yet another step forward in Slavic Village's renewal, with construction beginning on a new residential development, Trailside at Morgana Run. The two- and three-bedroom single-family homes will feature direct access to the Morgana Run Trail, which runs throughout Slavic Village to Mill Creek Falls.

    With the real estate market struggling nationwide, and in Cleveland particularly, the fact a home developer has invested in a new project deliberately featuring trail access is significant. Recent studies by the National Association of Homebuilders found that trails were the number one amenity desired by potential new homebuyers. And homes in close proximity to the Minuteman Bikeway and Nashua River Rail Trail in Massachusetts have been found to consistently sell closer to the list price, and faster, than homes not close to either trail.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy staff from the Midwest Regional Office have been working with Slavic Village Development (SVD) for the past three years. The 2011 Urban Pathways Initiative Conference was held in Cleveland in the spring of 2011 and showcased the Morgana Run Trail and Slavic Village. Trailside at Morgana Run is further evidence that walking and biking infrastructure continues to be a robust driver of economic activity.

    Where the new neighborhood will one day grow was once an environmentally contaminated brownfield site until being cleaned up a few years ago. Third Federal Savings and Loan, a banking institution founded in Slavic Village and headquartered next door to Trailside, is the developer of Trailside at Morgana Run.

    "We want to continue to help the revitalization of the neighborhood where we were founded," says Jennifer Rosa, public relations manager for Third Federal. "The Trailside project is important to us not only because it is on property adjacent to our headquarters, it is also adjacent to a beautiful multi-purpose trail and helps move new development further into the neighborhood."

    Photo of cyclists on the Morgana Run Trail by RTC

  • RTC Releases Blueprint for Bringing Lafitte Corridor to Fruition in New Orleans

    In the two and a half years Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has been working with the people of New Orleans on the redevelopment of the Lafitte Corridor, a hopeful, intangible vision has transformed into both a solid, actionable plan, and a grassroots movement.

    In post-Katrina New Orleans, with unprecedented attention focused on reconstructing land-use and development patterns, the 3.1-mile former rail and canal corridor through the heart of the city represents an extraordinary opportunity for a greenway of park space and trails that serves a variety of needs for residents and businesses. Tremendous local energy to make something more of the neglected space manifested itself in the formation of the Friends of Lafitte Corridor (FOLC) in 2006.

    RTC began a working partnership with FOLC in 2009. Our goals were their goals--a public place that encouraged community interaction and recreation, allowed residents to walk and bike through their city, and stimulated local businesses and neighborhoods surrounding the corridor. What began with the basic effort to spread word about the status and opportunities of the Lafitte Corridor reached a significant milestone this month, with the unveiling of a shortlist of design options produced by a consultant that reflect the community's significant input.

    Also this month, RTC launched a new, key tool in the effort to ensure the Lafitte Corridor plan benefits the diverse, and often underserved, population of downtown New Orleans. The Lafitte Corridor and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Urban Pathways Initiative: An Emerging Opportunity to Connect Neighborhoods to Healthy Living, contains a thorough inventory of the landscape, infrastructure, businesses and community places in and around the corridor, as well as a unique compilation of existing land-use plans for the area.

    "What we want to see is a greenway that is accessible for residents and connects to local businesses and amenities," says Kelly Pack, RTC's director of trail development. "In order to do that, planners need to have solid information on where those populations are, where the amenities are, the schools, the stores."

    Significantly, the document also includes a nuts-and-bolts action plan for maintaining vital community involvement as the plan proceeds, when sketches give way to groundbreakings and actual construction. For example, RTC's GIS database of sidewalks and ramps will assist the city's newly formed Complete Streets Advisory Committee in determining where improvements are most needed so residents can safely walk and bike in neighborhoods around the Lafitte Corridor.

    It contains recommendations for the creation of local groups charged with building community gardens, painting murals and producing trail maps--low-cost initiatives that RTC and our local partners have used successfully in other UPI projects in Washington, D.C., and Cleveland, Ohio.

    And RTC's inventory of more than 100 local businesses in and around the corridor will not only steer greenway patrons to nearby food outlets and stores, but will also be used by chambers of commerce and business planners in identifying untapped commercial opportunities.

    "As long as the greenway is developed in a way that encourages non-motorized transportation, it will certainly connect more people with their neighborhood businesses," Pack says. "The economic stimulus created by public greenways like this is well known. A blueprint on how to get there is one of the valuable resources this document will provide."

    Another is the benefit of RTC's tremendous experience with similar projects around the country. Community engagement efforts in Cleveland and D.C. helped transform little-used urban corridors into places of community, recreation and transportation. The vision for the Lafitte Corridor is a grand one. Fortunately, the models are in place for how to bring it to fruition.

    The city of New Orleans plans to complete the design phase by summer of next year, with construction slated for 2012 through 2014.

     

  • 'Keep On Riding' a Grand Message From Gordon Thorpe

    The people of North Carolina have a strong affinity with the American Tobacco Trail (ATT). Not only does the 19-mile rail-trail, connecting Chatham, Durham and Wake counties, represent a rich vein of the area's farming and commercial history, now it is a well-used and much-loved connector for the region's neighborhoods, schools, businesses and parks.

    But few people could possibly appreciate the joy of the ATT more than Gordon Thorpe. Even at the age of 90, Thorpe gets out for a ride on the trail almost every week. The ATT is a key part of Thorpe's active lifestyle, which also includes a mile swim every morning. By his rough calculations, he has swum about 3,800 miles since the pool opened in his retirement home complex in 1995.

    For Thorpe, the experience of cycling on the trail has taken on a different hue of late. His wife, a regular companion on his long rides, passed away in September.

    "I get up and go out by myself now," he says. "I don't have my 'go-fer ' anymore."

    During this difficult time, Thorpe has found deep satisfaction in his regular outings along the ATT. Not only does it provide a tremendous physical outlet, Thorpe says he also appreciates the myriad of people he sees on the trail.

    "I like to see people using the trail, all the different kinds of people," he says. "Sometimes I'll go out there and won't know anybody on the trail, and sometimes I'll see a few regulars. Sometimes we'll stop and have a talk about things."

    A veteran of World War II, Thorpe has lived in many states across America and has ridden more than 25 rail-trails, mostly in the Midwest and Southeast.

    "I would say the New River Trail [in Virginia] is my favorite of those I have ridden," says Thorpe. "It's not too long, and it's very scenic out there. You'll always see some deer and other animals." He also speaks highly of the Virginia Creeper Trail and Great Allegheny Passage.

    Thorpe's idea of "not too long" might be different from most others; since he first picked up a bike as a newspaper boy in Grand Rapids, Mich., almost 80 years ago, he has ridden many thousands of miles. These days his daughter, Judy, drives up from her home in Virginia to keep him company on the trail. They meet at the trailhead in Durham and ride the ATT together. And each September they take part in the Great Peanut Bike Tour, a four-day ride through southern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

    His family has been very supportive of Thorpe's pedal passion; his Trek 4700 hybrid bike was an 80th birthday present. And in celebration of his 90th birthday earlier this month, Thorpe's family donated a bench along the ATT in his honor.

    "I had no idea," Gordon says. "We were out on the trail together, and I say, 'Look, they've put a new bench in.' So my son says, 'Why don't we stop?' I started reading the little bronze plaque, and that's when I realized."

    Reading the inscription aloud, Thorpe seems genuinely touched by the gesture to build the seat, which took months of careful planning between the family and county workers.

    In celebration of Gordon A. Thorpe, on his 90th birthday. An avid and dedicated cyclist on the American Tobacco Trail. Keep on riding.

    "That's the part I like best--'keep on riding,'" Thorpe says.

    Though he has a deep appreciation for the ATT, Thorpe hopes to see a key improvement made in the near future. "At the moment, the trail just ends at the border between Chatham and Durham counties. It would be great for them to build a bridge over Interstate 40 there, so people could continue on."

    A Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) member for 10 years, Thorpe says he enjoys reading about trails all over the country in Rails to Trails magazine.

    "There are a few things I can't do now, so I like to read about them," he says. "I find it interesting when the magazine introduces me to trails and places I may not have been to. And knowing that there are people out there who take advantage of all these different trails--that's what I like."

    Gordon Thorpe’s son, Jim Thorpe, kindly sent us this terrific photo of his dad seeing his bench for the first time.

  • City Wins Diverse Funding Support for "Tracks at Brea" Rail-Trail

    The city of Brea on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Calif., is the latest municipality to tap a rail-trail project as a solution to some of the pressing transportation issues in the region.

    A project of the city of Brea Redevelopment Agency, the "Tracks at Brea" will one day run through the city center, linking recreational spots, schools, businesses and neighborhoods. The four-mile rail-trail will create a new route perpendicular to creek and river trails in Orange County, eventually connecting to the city of La Habra and the Whittier Greenway, adding a significant link in the expanding regional trail network.

    Construction of Tracks at Brea has already begun, and the city unveiled a trailhead section at Arovista Park earlier this year.

    "It is a small start for the Tracks at Brea, but this rail-trail has the potential to be a wonderful connector for residents and businesses in the area," says Steve Schweigerdt, manager of trail development for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Western Regional Office. "It is great to see the city moving forward with the necessary acquisitions and remediation. The Tracks at Brea project is a good example of how complex rail-trail projects can be. But the city is being proactive and creative in overcoming the various funding and planning issues."

    The city has tapped into a number of diverse funding sources to take concrete steps forward. Funding from the Orange County Transportation Authority allowed the completion of Phase 1 in Arovista Park.

    The city also secured California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) funding dedicated to encouraging young students to walk and bike to school through the Safe Routes to School program. Crossing through the heart of the city, the Tracks at Brea has the potential to provide a safe and convenient corridor for children to walk and bike. The Safe Routes to School funding will be used to install pedestrian- and bicyclist-activated traffic control devices at two intersections along the trail.

    In July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded two grants for soil assessment and to complete remediation of contaminated soil along the route. Arsenic was used by railroad companies in the past to kill weeds in certain areas of the right-of-way. In all, the project has been supported by 11 separate grants.

    In addition to providing a vital non-motorized connection, the Tracks at Brea will also highlight the railroad history of the area, with artwork and fencing made with recycled tracks and other material. According to a story in the Orange County Register, future plans include adding outdoor fitness and playground equipment, educational signs along the pathways, and connections to future and existing trails all across the region.

    "We kind of see it as something that will keep evolving," says project manager Kathie De Robbio. "The railroad rights-of-way are pretty wide."

    Updates on the Track at Brea are available at the city of Brea's Economic Development website.

    Photo of Phase I of the Tracks at Brea courtesy of City of Brea.

  • Michigan Mourns the Passing of Fred Meijer

    Few people have done more to advance the cause of trails and outdoor recreation in the state of Michigan than Fred Meijer. With Meijer's passing last week at the age of 91, the state has lost one of its great leaders, and one its most generous friends.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy offers its sincere condolences to his wife, Lena, the Meijer family, and everyone in the Michigan trails community.

    Meijer's name will forever be synonymous with trails and parkland philanthropy. Born in 1919 to Dutch immigrant parents, at the age of 14 Meijer helped his family launch the first-ever Meijer operation: a grocery store in the small city of Greenville. Meijer went on to build one of the most successful retail compa­nies in America, and one of the nation's largest family-owned businesses.

    Meijer had two philanthropic passions--the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, and rail-trails. In the early 1990s, he funded the purchase of the first rail-trail right-of-way in Michigan. That purchase became the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail, a 43-mile rail-trail that unlocks some of Michigan's finest agricultural lands, woods, meadows, wet­lands and small historical towns.

    Meijer's generous philanthropy joined with a dedicated and active citizens group to form a strong and ambitious trail community. The original Heartland Trail is now the centerpiece of the Fred Meijer trails network, which connects a number of rural and urban areas in the Lower Peninsula.

    In October of this year, Meijer was honored by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy as a Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion, one of 25 people recognized to have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement over the past quarter century.

    As evident as his generosity was Meijer's pride in his native state and love for its open spaces. His belief in outdoor recreation as a key to satisfaction and happiness was at the core of his support of trails. "Ninety-five percent of folks live in the city," he said, "and never get to experience the rural areas surrounding them."

    Thanks to the philanthropy and vision of Fred and Lena, millions of Americans now have the opportunity to enjoy the respite that Michigan's trails system offers. He also created the first endow­ment fund in Michigan for the maintenance of trails, to ensure the trail system he created continues to be a valuable asset for generations of Americans to come.

    Photo of Fred Meijer, with fellow Michigan trails advocate Carolyn Kane, courtesy of Carolyn Kane.

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